Monday, September 2, 2013

South Haven


No kids and no responsibilities for the weekend meant Gary Anderson and I could hit the quiet, open roads of South Haven, Michigan to our hearts' content.  It was glorious.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tour of Galena


Tour of Galena
June 8-9, 2013

Here’s something you don’t want to hear when you first arrive to a race: “Mackenzie crashed while we were pre-riding the time trial course and he’s being airlifted to a hospital in Rockford because the hospital in Galena doesn’t have a trauma center.”  My initial enthusiasm to be in Galena for what is one of the best races in the area quickly dissipated and we spent the next several hours anxiously awaiting updates on his condition.  Thankfully, apart from a concussion and some bumps and bruises, we later found out that Mackenzie would be fine and was even back racing a few weeks later.  Nonetheless, it definitely cast a bit of a shadow on the weekend and the mood felt a bit heavier on Friday night before the start of the two-day stage race. 

Stage 1:  Time Trial
My goals for the weekend were pretty straightforward.  I wanted to be in the top 10 in the road race and get on the podium in the criterium, and I knew if I did that then I’d have a respectable finish in the overall omnium scoring.  Notice there was no goal for the TT.  I’ve only done a few time trials in my life and I despised every one of them, so I wasn’t overly optimistic or enthusiastic about the first stage.  Nevertheless, I put in a hard effort on the hilly 6-mile course.  I tried not to be too conservative but this voice kept creeping into my head whispering, ‘You still have a 65-mile road race later today...you still have a 65-mile road race later today…’  That voice probably cost me a few spots in the TT, but on the flip side it maybe saved my road race.  The highlight of the morning, however, was that my teammate Jason Senffner won the TT and would be riding in the overall race leader’s jersey later that day for the road race.  It was especially sweet because Jason had come with the primary goal of winning the TT and he did just that – with authority.  After the TT we packed it up and headed back to the house to eat, take a nap, eat some more, and get ready for the afternoon road race.

Stage 2:  Road Race
I knew our second ride of the day would be a brutal test for me.  65 miles with nearly 5,000 feet of punishing climbs is not your average Chicagoland race.  When you race and train in the Chicago suburbs all year it’s easy to forget what a hill even looks like.  We would be reminded today.  The history here is that I came to Galena last year and got dropped from the road race after just two of the three laps, barely able to turn the pedals over coming up the final climb.  With better fitness and a lot more motivation I was hoping for a much better outcome this year, though I was still maintaining a realistic perspective.  With Jason now sitting in the overall lead for the weekend, I just wanted to stay in the lead group and do whatever I could to help him stay up there as well.  The first couple 22-mile laps were fairly uneventful and the pace was manageable – Jason and I maintained good position toward the front and didn’t waste any energy trying anything crazy.  The fireworks began on the third lap as expected as several significant, though unsuccessful, breakaway attempts launched.  With seven or eight miles remaining we approached the final two climbs of the day, which I knew would be decisive.  I could feel the miles beginning to take their inevitable toll on my legs but I knew if I could get over the climbs with this front group I would be golden.  I didn’t.  The race shattered into pieces over the second to last climb with only ten or twelve guys in the lead group.  Jason and I stayed close over the top and worked hard together to claw our way back to the front of the race, rejoining the front group shortly before the day’s final short but steep hill.  This time I had to fight with everything I had just to keep my legs from cramping up and by the time I got over the top the lead group had ridden out of sight – probably 15 or 20 seconds up the road.  Jason and I had both been dropped again but regrouped quickly and began the chase, again.  At this point my only thought was that I had to get Jason up to the lead group or any hope of a solid overall result for the team would be lost.  So Jason and I took turns hammering on the front of a small chase group looking for the eight or ten guys up the road.  With only a few miles left in the race the lead group came into sight and suddenly it seemed possible that we might just catch them.  Finally getting help from one other rider we caught the lead group with maybe two miles to go.  Exhausted, we sat up to collect ourselves for what appeared would be a sprint finish with about 15 – 20 guys.  Though totally spent, I was thrilled with the sudden turn of events.  I’d gone from thinking the race (and omnium along with it) had slipped out of reach to being in position to contest the finish.  Never having finished the race, I wasn’t sure what to expect as we came into town so I moved to the front to give myself a chance.  After several tight turns through town the finish line came into view and I was right where I wanted to be.   A Burnham rider opened up the sprint and I came around him at the line but it was close.  Close enough that I wasn’t doing any celebrating until it was confirmed.  Sure enough a short time later the results were posted and I’d won my first road race.  It was a bit surreal and, frankly, I was shocked.  Totally unexpected, which made it feel even better.  Jason finished a solid 8th so we would both be looking at good overall results if we played our cards right in the crit the next day.

Stage 3:  Criterium
It had rained off-and-on most of the day but by the start of our race the roads were just beginning to dry out.  Perfect.  Sitting in 3rd place for the overall after my miracle road race win, I was in the fairly comfortable position of simply marking the two riders ahead of me and making sure I beat them.  Jason and I also had additional firepower for the crit with Dave Ross joining us.  Then it started to rain…hard.  Deluge hard.  I don’t think I’ve ever ridden in rain coming down this hard.  It made the second half of the race a bit of a nightmare but most everyone raced conservatively and except for a crash with one lap to go it stayed pretty safe.  The race stayed together and going into the final lap Jason hit the front and absolutely crushed it.  He literally hammered at the front the entire final lap - it was awesome.  I was sitting on Dave’s wheel about five wheels back feeling like this was the perfect position to take into the final turn.  As we rounded the rain-soaked final turn, however, Dave slid out and hit the deck and I had to brake hard to avoid doing the same.  By the time I regrouped and started sprinting the five who went safely through the turn were out of reach, but I managed to hold on for 6th.  Jason was 4th and moved up into 4th in the overall while I maintained 3rd. 

Winning two of three stages and landing two ABD’ers in the top five for the overall made for a surprisingly successful and memorable weekend of racing.  Definitely a highlight of the season.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Breaking Away


04.13.13  Lincoln Park Criterium
Category 3 / 3rd Place

My race almost ended a few minutes in.  There’s a 180-degree turn in the course where you have to slow way down and then stand and sprint out of the turn to get back up to speed.  On the second lap as I stood to come out of the turn my pedal clipped the ground – sending my rear wheel into the air and drifting to the right toward the curb.  Slam!  My wheel came down with a fury three or four feet to the right of where it took off and I narrowly avoided crashing.  Relief that I hadn’t crashed overcame the mild embarrassment for my error and I jumped back in as though nothing had happened. 

After missing out on the breakaway the previous week in South Beloit I was intent on getting it right this time around.  With Konrad, David and me representing ABD I knew we would have a good shot as long as we were paying attention.  Sure enough, three riders attacked and formed a decent gap just a few laps into the race.  I rolled to the front to make sure things didn’t get away from us and upped the pace a bit.  Looking back to see who was ready to rotate through I’m shocked to find a 30 or 40 meter gap has opened up behind me as we come up a short incline.  I realize that David and a XXX rider have slowed at the front, content to let me sneak away.  I figured it was probably foolish to go but I also figured if I got caught David or Konrad would be able to counter and make something happen.  I sprinted hard out of the hairpin turn and hammered until I made contact with the breakaway group.  I was joined along the way by another rider so we had five.  For the next several laps our lead grew ever so slowly.  There are points on the course where you can see across to where the other riders are so each time around I was looking to see how much our advantage had grown.  It wasn’t growing as quickly or as easily as I’d hoped.  In fact, I was quickly beginning to wonder whether I was going to be able to hang on to this breakaway group.  My companions seemed to be motoring along with ease while I was hanging on for dear life.  The thought of having to explain to my teammates why I got dropped from the winning breakaway, however, compelled me to do whatever it took to hang on.  I took weaker pulls. I passed on rotating to the front a couple times.  I knew full well they would try to crack me later but I just wanted to survive.  With three to go, the South Chicago Wheelmen rider attacked hard up the incline trying to shed us but I was able to claw my way back.  Things settled down as we came back together and everyone marked each other as we took the last two laps easy.  Thankfully this gave me a chance to recover a bit, though I was still pretty well cooked.  As we came into the final stretch all five of us were content to let a pretty straightforward sprint determine our fates.  I held on to the third podium spot by what seemed to be about a tire-width.  And it’s been a while since I was on a podium so I was glad for it.

Konrad picked up 6th place with another devastating field sprint and David brought home 11th.  The benefits and enjoyment of riding with and as a team became clear today.  Really looking forward to the rest of the season.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Back to the Bricks


03.23.13  Hillsboro-Roubaix Road Race
Category 3 / 9th Place

I made the long drive down to Hillsboro on Friday night to stay in a cheap hotel with a couple of our elite team guys who I didn’t know very well.  Andy and Bryan were already there when I arrived and when I came in I remember thinking, “Why do you guys have it so damn hot in here??”  Our hotel room had to be 80 degrees and, in hindsight, I’m guessing all three of us were quietly wondering why the others weren’t opposed to the oppressive heat, yet not quite comfortable enough with each other yet to question it either.  For my part, I was guessing these elite-level racers knew something I didn’t about the benefits of sleeping in a pool of your own sweat the night before a race.  Bryan had raced in Belgium, after all, so I trusted I was gaining some age-old Euro-Pro wisdom.  Finally, Andy couldn’t take it anymore and gently asked, “So…Adam…what do you guys usually keep your thermostat at in your house?”  Normally that would be an odd question but under the circumstances it made perfect sense.  “I don’t know, like 70, but it’s pretty hot in here, right?”  There was a collective sigh of relief as we realized none of us wanted it even nearly that warm in our room.  Andy turned it way down, and we called it a night.

After a Denny’s breakfast of oatmeal and terrible coffee we made our way to the race.  We were a little late to the start so Konrad, David, Joe and I lined up at the back of the field.  However, as the only London Olympics gold medalist in the field, Joe got a call-up to the front (I suspect this won’t be his last call-up of the year).  Through the first 30-mile lap we made it our goal to move up to the front, which wasn’t too difficult given the smaller-than-usual field size of 50-ish riders.  As the attacks started I could see Joe already putting in a lot of work on the front – there’s no question he had his head in the wind as much as anyone in the race.  Shortly into the second lap David got a flat and pulled out.  For a brief moment I contemplated stopping with him with the thought that maybe the two of us together could chase back, but I quickly came to my senses realizing that I would probably barely finish the race as it was, without putting in a crazy effort right in the middle of it.  Figuring that Konrad would be our best hope in a sprint finish I went to the front to help Joe make sure we kept the race together to the end.  We managed to help squash a couple breakaway attempts and then I found Konrad and said, “If we’re still together over the final climb just say ‘I’m here’ and we’ll see what we can do.”  I still wasn’t sure at that point whether he or I would still be around to contest the finish because the whole race typically blows up on the hill leading into town. 

We were well positioned at the base of the climb and I made it up and over without any issues.  It almost caught me by surprise when I heard it: “Adam, I’m here.”  Holy crap, Konrad’s here and we’ve got a shot at this!  I hit the gas as hard as I could down the hill and onto the brick road toward the final turn.  I didn’t want to take the front because it’s still a long haul from the final corner but we were sitting perfect in the top ten.  Coming through the turn I went inside but Konrad got bumped wide and there wasn’t going to be time to regroup.  Konrad kicked hard and was able to grab 6th place and I came through for 9th without much of a sprint left.  All in all, a pretty solid day of racing and a good start to the season!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summoning Jens

Wood Dale Criterium / ABR State Championship
Masters 30+ 1,2,3


With my brother Chris in town for the next couple weeks, Wood Dale would be a nice tune up for the Superweek Geneva race the following weekend.  We showed up on time to register for the Cat. 3 race but all the races had been delayed due to a recent thunderstorm.  Since we couldn't afford to sit around for several hours, we decided to go ahead and jump into the 30+ race which was going off 20 minutes after we registered.  It was an abbreviated warmup and my trip to the porta-potty almost made me miss the race, but I made it just in time for the whistle.

Not knowing what to expect, my goal for the race was to simply be aggressive and active and hopefully work in a coordinated way with my brother to get one or both of us a decent result.  Early in the race we both took digs off the front in bids to get into the break, none of which paid off however.  We missed the break so in the spirit of my original goal of being active I decided I'd be aggressive in my new role as domestique.  There were a couple guys blocking and only a few of us willing to work so it fell largely on me and my brother to try to reel in the seven off the front.  With only a couple laps to go I summoned every last bit of Jens Voigt I have in me to catch the break, which was now in sight, but just couldn't quite get it.  On the final lap, Chris came streaking by to stake his claim on the final two corners knowing there was a relatively short downhill sprint off the final turn.  He nearly took the field sprint but was caught at the line by former professional speedskater John Coyle, who referred to Chris in his race report as the "powerful rider in green."

It wasn't quite the race or the outcome we were hoping for but it was a blast getting the rare opportunity to race together again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fixed Gear Fever

Last year, in order to appease a nagging curiosity and fascination with fixed-gear bicycles, and as a healthy outlet to get me through a brutal winter, I took this:

And turned it into this (with some help from a guy I know who works in a bike shop):

It's a worthy and capable machine and plenty of bike to give me a taste of the single-speed craze that's become so popular. A racing machine it is not, but nevertheless I wanted to give the track a try and this was all I had. So I took it out to the Northbrook Velodrome on one of the last "beginner" nights of the track season - nights designated specifically for newbies like myself to get acquainted with track riding and racing.

I was nervous for a couple reasons. First, though I was proud of the bike I'd built (note the fancy photoshoot picture), I knew it had no business visiting a velodrome. It was an old Fuji touring frame I'd stripped down and built up with the cheapest eBay scraps I could find - so long as they were red and looked cool I didn't really care. There was a real part of me that expected the bike to explode into pieces the first time I put any real torque into the pedals. Thankfully, it never did. Second, I'd barely ridden a fixed gear bike in my life, save for a few trips around the block and making circles in the nearest parking lot. Tonight, we would be riding in a pack and even doing some mock racing. I was there to have fun and get some experience on the track but had no idea what I was doing so was a bit anxious that I might do something stupid and wreck the night. I didn't.

I've done my fair share of road racing over the past few years, but this is very different. With no gears and no brakes, it is a very purist form of cycling, and scarier and less scenic too. We spent some time just rolling around the track, warming up and getting comfortable while getting some introductory lessons on proper track etiquette from the coaches. Then out of nowhere they said, "Okay, go ahead and sprint," and everyone took off at full speed. "Oh shit," I thought, here comes the moment where I prove just how bad an idea it was to bring this bike here. I wasn't about to sit it out though, so I took off with them. My gearing was too low so I was spinning like crazy to keep up, but I was keeping up. It's hard to explain the feeling the first time you hit the bank of the turn at full speed. You lean into the turn and your brain tells you that your pedal is going to hit the ground so you want to keep that inside pedal up - but that's not an option - so you spin through it and it never does touch. I went through the first couple turns at speed convinced I was going to die, my heart rate shooting through the roof with dread, bracing for the inevitable carnage. It took a couple laps for my brain to fully accept the reality that I couldn't touch a pedal down even if I wanted to.

The rest of the night is a blur. I was having so much fun I didn't want it to end. I was sad when they made us leave. It was my only trip to the velodrome last summer, but I knew then that I'd be coming back for more. Which brings me to the best part - my new toy:

See you at the track!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bad Luck

4.16.11 Hillsboro-Roubaix
Cat. 3 / 57th

The above photo actually tells the story of this race - I am on the left side of the picture pulling off to the side of the road with a flat tire with about 10 miles to go. So disappointing. Thankfully I was able to get a spare wheel from one of the follow vehicles and at least finish the race, but not the outcome I was hoping for. I guess we'll chalk this one up as a "training" race. Let's hope there aren't many more of those this year.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Doh!

3.26.11 Burnham Spring Super Crit
Cat. 3 / 20th ; Cat. 1,2,3 / 17th


If I had a nickel for every time I did something stupid in a bike race, racing would be a lot more lucrative for me. I watched the breakaway slowly develop off the front of the pack, casually and confidently predicting it wouldn't stick. It did stick, of course, and by the time I woke up and started chasing it was too little, too late. I chased in vain for several minutes, stuck in no-man's land, briefly unwilling to acknowledge the obvious - the race was gone. I sprinted hard for a prime to salvage what I could from the race - but lost that too. A disappointing day to be sure, but it reminded me again of what's great about racing: it's unpredictable and it's really hard.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Winfield

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Devastation

My brother, Chris, started racing this year and quickly garnered YouTube fame as he deftly maneuvered through (or maybe over?) a chaotic crash at the Watsonville Crit in California.

He is the sole survivor escaping unscathed from the carnage:



At 00:20 he is center screen, bikes and bodies flailing around him:

No Chocolate Milk

Photo by Dave Reid
6.26.10 ToAD - Downer Classic
Cat. 3 / 15th


There would be no repeat of last year's big win at the great Downer Classic. No sweet chocolate milk chug on the top step of the podium. The race was just as fun, but with less drama and significantly less ceremony at the end.

The race was a brief detour from our family vacation in the Dells and gave me, my dad, and brother a chance to do something more active than sitting around eating and drinking all day - which was nice. Having tasted victory here only a year ago, I have to admit I had high hopes as I toed the line - though my experience this year warranted humbler expectations.

I sprinted for a prime late in the race thinking perhaps I could get myself into a break, but quickly realized I didn't have the legs for it. I settled in and waited for the finish, still feeling decent about my chances. On the final lap I moved into pretty good position, close to the front. Coming down the straightaway on the back side of the course two lead-outs formed - one moving up the right side of the road, the other to the left. Right or left?? I knew the decision was going to make or break the race for me. The train to the right was moving faster so I jumped in - perfect! 5th wheel and I'm set. Wait, the left side is speeding up...passing us...they're gonna make the final corner before us! No!! "You have chosen...poorly." I dropped numerous spots and a lot of speed before coming into the final turn and just did my best to maintain what I could. It wasn't the finish I'd hoped for, but rest assured the week-long vacation alleviated any and all disappointment.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rainy Day

5.31.10 Memorial Day Masters Weekend (ABR)
30+ Cat. 1-4 / 5th


I hadn't fully committed to racing today so when it stormed a couple hours before my race I decided that was a good enough reason to skip it. However, I was equally uncommitted to not racing so when the rain cleared and the sun started poking out I changed my mind again and headed for registration. Committed. I pin my number, get dressed in a porta-potty, get my bike ready, start warming up...and it starts raining again. So I rolled to the start irritated and certain I would crash - the just punishment for my indecisiveness.

As the race started I decided I would either get into a breakaway or die trying, with a twofold reasoning in mind: 1) it would make the race more interesting and hard; and 2) it would increase the likelihood of my bike and I finishing in one piece. Within a couple laps, three of us were off the front. Within a couple more, we had become five. Mission accomplished. Each time through the Start/Finish the announcer called out the split between us and the pack... "18 seconds!...37 seconds!...52 seconds!" With only about 10 minutes to go our lead was close to two minutes and it was clear we were not going to get caught. Now it was time to figure out how I was going to win this thing against several guys I knew were stronger than me. Hmmm, that's tricky, but I had something up my sleeve.

The break soft-pedaled the last couple laps as we eyed each other and waited for somebody to make a move. Who would go first? I stayed on the front and waited, ready to pounce on an early move. Waiting...waiting... Nobody's gonna go?? You leave me no choice. As we rounded a corner onto a slightly downhill stretch about halfway through the final lap, I jumped out of the saddle and sprinted as hard as I could in an attempt to create a gap I could carry to the finish. "Surely nobody could have matched that devastating attack" I thought as I looked back to survey the damage I'd done. And there they were - all four of them - glued to my wheel as if I hadn't done anything. Crap. I did my best to recover and keep up but at that point it was a lost cause. Unable to keep up to contest the sprint, I rolled in well behind them - proudly displaying an open-palmed celebration of my 5th place and wearing a big smile. Glad I decided to race.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alpe d'Ski Hill

5.16.10 Fox River Grove Cycling Challenge
Cat. 3 / 15th


Of all the races I'll do this year, I think I was most looking forward to this one. I thought the short but severe Ski Hill Road climb would suit my strengths and I had visions of cash prizes and the elusive podium position. It would take quite a podium to accommodate 15 places, unfortunately.

For the first half of the race I felt good - I was suffering no doubt but, I figured, suffering in the usual way that everyone else was too. Here's a nice video of us stomping up the hill - while I could still breathe and see straight:



It soon became clear, however, that my suffering was not of the average variety and that I was doomed. With 4 to go I came undone, my legs no longer willing or able to carry me up the hill at the lead group's pace. As the leaders and the race drifted out of sight, I found a sustainable rhythm and a couple other dropped riders and pressed on.

I've heard it said that bike racing is all about managing your relationship with disappointment, and though that seems a bit heavy, I definitely had some managing to do after this one. And so it goes - disappointment becomes motivation; you keep working hard; then you come back and try again. And I'll definitely be back. I still love this race even though it beat me into submission this year.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monsters

5.15.10 Monsters of the Midway
Cat. 3 / 6th


Flat and fast four-corner crit I knew was likely to end in a sprint. I wasn't particularly excited about that because I've felt a bit dejected recently about my lack of punch at the end of races, but what other option is there when the pace is near 30 mph for most of the race (I'm not exactly going to disappear off the front).

The final lap was as frenzied and tense as I've ever been a part of, as everyone drove for the front - pushing, shoving, swerving. In my peripheral vision I could see the makings of a crash, but we would be out of sight by the time we heard the half dozen or so bikes and bodies slamming to the ground. Coming around the final turn I was in a decent position, though already out of contention for the win. As we dove into the corner I could feel it - somebody's front wheel touching my rear wheel - which always ends the same way. I cringed as I heard him crash but quickly re-focused on the finish. I felt decent on the long straightaway and passed a few riders on my way to 6th place - well behind the top guys. As we cooled down, paramedics tended to bloodied riders while they inspected the damage to their expensive toys.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Drag Race

5.2.10 Vernon Hills Grand Prix
Cat. 3 / 6th

I was looking forward to Vernon Hills because, as a short and straightforward criterium, it would make for a good test of my sprint. If it stayed together I knew I'd have a chance to see what happens when I save myself for the finish and then have a go at it - and the race played out perfectly for that to happen. Burnham was well represented so they shot guys off the front throughout the race but nobody got away and we were together coming in to the final few laps. I positioned myself well in the final lap, 6th or 7th wheel. As we approached the final turn I moved up on the inside toward the front, which in hindsight was a bit hasty as the finishing straight was long and into the wind. Nevertheless, as two riders came by on my left I grabbed their wheels and we stood to sprint. I neither gained nor lost ground at that point - I just sort of maintained my position through the sprint for 6th place. Fun and safe race...just wish I was a little faster.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Classic.


Photo by Gavin Gould
4.17.10 Leland Kermesse
Cat. 1,2,3 / 22nd

This race was so hard it was two weeks before I could bring myself to revisit it for the sake of the report. The 125km (77 mile) race blew to pieces within the first few miles, with crosswinds and a vicious attack dividing the field in half immediately following the neutral roll-out. I basically had to redline it for a couple minutes just to maintain contact with the front half of the race and we hadn't even gone 5 miles yet. I eventually got popped out of the back of this group and rode alone for a bit, but was soon joined by 3 others. We made a pretty well-matched foursome (though I was admittedly probably the weakest link) and worked well together for the next 30 or so miles, making the best of our unfortunate situation. As soon as I started thinking, 'Hey this isn't so bad, it would be great if I could finish with this chase group...' Flat. As I pulled off the road, one of the support vehicles stopped in front of me and I got ready to throw my bike in the back and call it a day. But to my surprise (and horror) a guy jumps out of the van with a new tube and pump! After the quick and unexpected tire fix I'm back on the road - alone. 20 mph headwinds never felt quite so bad. I put my head down and battled on though, the fixed flat breathing new life into my determination to finish. I only had to do a few miles on my own before I was joined by another straggler - a XXX rider who was gracious enough to let me ride with him even though I was dying and undoubtedly slowing him down. Nevertheless, we pressed on, as if staring Leland in the eye and letting it know it wasn't going to get the best of us today. Shortly thereafter I ran out of water but thankfully my new XXX buddy gave me his extra bottle - huge props to Mike Seguin for that classy move - it's nice to ride with good guys. As I came down the finishing stretch both of my legs cramped up as badly as they ever have in all my life. I literally thought I was going to roll to a stop and tip over, unable to use either leg. Thankfully I was able to clip out and step down at the last second, narrowly avoiding tumbling into the ditch. After composing myself and rubbing the cramps out of my legs, I rode the final couple hundred meters to the finish. Just shy of 4 hours on the bike. 55 started, 25 finished. Agonizing but gratifying.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Roubaix

Photo by John Bennett
Just like the real thing.
OK, maybe not quite.

4.10.10 Hillsboro-Roubaix
(Hillsboro, IL)
Cat. 3 / 10th


A race needs a good deal of character and a cool name to get me to drive four hours, and the Hillsboro-Roubaix Road Race has both - so I did. The Cat. 3 field was pretty well stacked and ran about 100 deep, so the stage was set for a good time. The 58 mile course, stiff breeze, and rolling hills guaranteed it would be a tough day - and it didn't disappoint.

The first 29-mile lap was an exercise in moving up through a tightly-packed and well-defended peloton. Many of the rural roads were narrow and could only accommodate 3 or 4 riders across, and the dreaded center-line rule made it risky to make any moves on the left. The crosswinds meanwhile forced riders left as they battled for shelter while the moto-refs intermittently came by to take down numbers, honk, remind, and reprimand. Between poking my wheel into the slightest of openings and riding in the gutter with my face in the wind, I eventually made it to the front a couple miles before the start of the second lap. I was predicting the fireworks would begin early in the latter half of the race and I wanted to be there when they did. Marking wheels as we rolled out of town I waited...and waited. Finally I decided to initiate the action, hoping I might lure somebody into a break. I jumped but was quickly reeled back in. My brief and futile attempt to get away was useful in one sense however - it helped me realize how bad my legs already felt after 40 miles - with nearly 20 still to go. So I settled back in, maintained a decent position, and hoped my legs would come back to life.

As we approached the final hill into town, I realized I was going to reach my initial goal for the race: to simply finish with the lead group. My legs were pretty well destroyed as we started up the climb and I was just trying to stay smooth to prevent cramping. It became apparent as the road turned upward however that I wasn't the only one who was feeling it. Guys were fading left and right and all of a sudden we were going over the top and I was near the front. I tweaked my expectations a bit and started thinking about going after a decent finish as we made a hard left toward the downhill. We came screaming down the descent into town and hit the fabled brick roads at around 45 miles-per-hour. I grabbed the bars as tightly as I could as the vibration loosened what little grip my sweaty hands still had - temporarily blocking from my mind the reality of what would happen to a person falling on broken brick pavement at this speed. I knew I didn't have much of a sprint in me (I couldn't even stand up) so I held on tight and followed wheels as closely as I could down the long finishing straight. 10th place.

And though it doesn't look like much on paper, it's probably my proudest finish to date considering how hard I had to work for it.

A special thanks to the Wells family for sharing their home for our "Tennessee Training Camp," which undoubtedly helped me make it to the finish line intact.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Off and Running...

When you have a daughter who looks up at you like that before you leave for a race, what more could you ask for?

3.27.10 Burnham Spring Super Crit
(South Beloit)
Cat. 3 / 10th

Cat. 1,2,3 / 31st

Saturday kicked off what will hopefully be a productive season of racing. It felt good to get out there again and mix it up, test the legs a bit, shake out the cobwebs, and see some familiar faces. I raced twice in an effort to put some good, hard miles into my legs with a couple longer road races quickly approaching.

In the 3's I tried to be a bit more aggressive than usual and stayed near the front, helping to chase down breaks (except the one that counted, unfortunately - well played, XXX). As we made our way to the finishing stretch on the final lap, Chazz Martin jumped super hard and super early and I went with him - foolishly. Guys were passing me left and right as I died to the finish line. As my dad wisely put it afterward, "Now you just need to work on your half-mile sprint." Thanks, dad. It was actually probably a good gamble for me to take, as the true sprinters would have blown my doors off either way. In the 1,2,3 race I just sat in and held on, unsure of how long my legs would last. I felt better than expected and took one final dig off the front about halfway through the final lap to make sure I had sufficiently punished myself before pulling the plug and rolling in with the pack.

And so it begins...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Anticipation

Photo by Luke Seemann

The first race of the season is only a couple days away. I can't wait. But I'll miss the off-season, at least briefly.

I suppose the beauty of the off-season lies in its limitless potential. Hope and aspiration are unburdened by the weight of reality. The anxiety and anticipation build until that first race. So many unknowns. 'Have I trained hard enough?' 'Will I be better than last year?' 'Will I win?' 'Will I get dropped?' 'Will I be overgeared in my first bunch sprint?'

On Saturday the questions will be answered. Expectations will be realigned with reality, whatever it may be. As racing season gets into full swing, fate will sort us into a natural order - most of us falling into the taller portions of the bell-shaped curve.

Come Saturday it is fully possible I will be as average as ever. And it won't matter even a little bit. Because we'll be racing - and regardless of the outcome it just doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hit 'n Run

Anyone who spends any time riding suburban Chicago roads can tell you that drivers are not always thrilled to see us on them. Inexplicably, it enrages some drivers to the point of violence. The other day, two friends and I were riding on Army Trail Road near St. Charles when we were nearly killed by one of these:


If it were simply negligence I wouldn't have thought much of it, as I've had near misses with careless drivers on numerous occasions (just today somebody pulled out in front of me and I had to hit the brakes hard to avoid a collision). No, this was something uglier and scarier. This was intentional.

We were hugging the side of the road and riding single-file as a car approached us from behind and honked several times. Figuring he was just announcing his presence I didn't think much of it...until he nearly clipped me as he passed - maybe 3 or 4 inches off my elbow - probably doing 40 or 50 miles-per-hour. Andy, who was riding on the front, wasn't as lucky. The SUV's side-view mirror caught him in the back and sent him sprawling, with the second rider in line quickly crashing over top of him. I veered around the chaos and skid to a stop, reeling from what had just happened. I strained in vain to make out anything of the SUV's license plate as he sped away like nothing had happened.

Thankfully, and somewhat miraculously, nobody was seriously injured. Just plenty of bumps, bruises, and the always pleasant road rash. A 911 call, fire truck, ambulance, several police cars and an hour later, we were able to finish what was left of our ride (the latter half was much less eventful). As I shared this story with a friend later that day, he relayed that he had ridden also and had been passed by a motorist giving him the finger and screaming obscenities at him - all because he was riding his bike on the road.

If I am ever killed riding my bike, please know that I died happy...but I'd still rather not.

Share the road.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Looking Back...



It's been an exciting season of firsts...

My 1st "team kit" including my 1st bibs (from which I'll never go back)


My 1st podium...


Ellery's 1st race...



My 1st win...


...and my 1st 2nd...


...and 3rd...


...and 4th!


My 1st crash...

My 1st upgrade...


And my 1st use of chamois cream (thanks to Jay for the nudge and Gary for the gift)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Joy of Suffering


10.3/10.4.09 Fall Fling Time Trial and Circuit Race
Cat. 3 /
12th and DNF

TT:
Just man and machine against the clock - they call it "The Race of Truth." And the truth, apparently, is that I suck at it. It probably doesn't help that my TT bike looks conspicuously similar to my road bike, but I suppose that excuse is worth little more than a few sympathy points. I truly hope to enjoy this discipline someday, but for now there remains no love lost between us. And hey - I got 12th place - which really doesn't sound that bad as long as I don't mention it was out of 13. Anyhow, the critical detail here is that I beat my dad by 12 seconds - so I've got that going for me.

Circuit Race:

The picture speaks for itself - I wasn't thrilled to prematurely pull the plug on the final race of the year, as it made for a rather anticlimactic finale to what has been one helluva fun season of racing. Nevertheless, it was a great race while it lasted. There was a lot of activity and the wind kept things interesting - and by interesting I mostly mean really hard. I blew myself up trying to make something happen late in the race and quickly found myself struggling to hang on. All of a sudden it was taking everything I had just to maintain contact. I could feel it coming...and sure enough, as soon as we hit that relentless headwind it started. Just a few feet at first. Okay, close the gap, no big deal, catch your breath. But there would be no catching of breath and no comeback today. The last wheel of the peloton slipped slowly and quietly out of reach as I resisted the temptation to shout, "Wait for me!" I rode my final lap alone - unaccompanied and reflective, surprisingly more content than disappointed. The peace, I suppose, of knowing that I hadn't gone down without a fight and, more importantly, that it's just a race after all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1/2, 3, Go


Photo by John Glass
9.26/9.27.09 Fall Fling Criterium and Road Race (ABR)
Cat. 3 / 8th and 6th, respectively
(if not respectably)

Criterium:
Smaller fields meant that Categories 1, 2, and 3 would be combined, which in turn meant that I was hoping no 1's and 2's would show up. No such luck. Rolling up to the start line next to guys I've been watching in awe for the past couple years was a bit surreal and slightly intimidating. Nevertheless, while I can't hold a candle to them, I have to admit it felt pretty cool lining up with some of the All-Stars from Geargrinder and ABD (you know, the guys whose names appear in bold print on Chicago Bike Racing all season long). I wonder if it's poor form to ask for autographs in the middle of a race? I relished the moment because I was confident (and quickly proven correct) that I would not be racing with some of them for very long. The race itself wasn't overly compelling, especially for me. I sat in and did my best to go as fast as everyone around me, knowing full well that any time spent chasing or attempting breakaways might result in me going down in a blaze of glory (or a pathetic fizzle, depending on how dramatically you like to consider such things). So I conserved as much energy as possible for the sprint, hoping that would finally be my time to shine. It wasn't. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure you're supposed to go faster during the sprint - not the other way around. I wish I had a better excuse than just sheer mediocrity to account for my average finish, but I can't think of a good one.

Road Race:
The State Road Race Championship a couple weeks ago was 50 miles and it nearly killed me. This one was 60 miles with another combined 1/2 and 3 field, so it wasn't at all difficult hiding my excitement. After the first few laps I had the conscious thought that 'if this pace continues, there is no possible chance I am going to be finishing this race.' Fortunately, after the breaks were established and gone, our group (3rd group/14 or so riders) settled into a more agreeable (and perhaps even sustainable?) pace. Predictably, right around the 50 mile point my legs started wanting to cramp, adding a touch of agony to an already grueling day. My thought at that point, however, was 'well at least I'll only have a few miles to ride by myself when these guys start winding things up for the last lap,' recognizing that I had little left except the simple determination to finish. Thankfully, I was able to fend off cramps and survive to the end with the group, which had slowly dwindled to 6 or 7. I couldn't help but wonder if the unusually slow and cordial finish was a show of camaraderie or simply a display of pure exhaustion. Judging by appearances afterward, it was a tough day for most.

Side Note:
Throwing my empty water bottle was a trivial but meaningful highlight of the road race. I mean, really, is there anything more PRO than tossing an empty bottle to the side of the road? Again, I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure there is some sort of transcendent transformation that takes place once you've done this - an arrival of sorts as a true bike racer. The only difference, I suppose, is that when pros do it they probably aren't thinking, "Man I hope nobody walks off with that bottle, I really need that back..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Riding Up Grades


Photo by Gavin Gould
9.12.09 IL State Road Race Championships
Cat. 3 / 14th


The great Eddy Merckx once said, "Don't buy upgrades; Ride up grades." And that's exactly what we did this past weekend at the State Road Race Championships.

The last time I did a 50 mile road race I got dropped off the back 20 miles in and spent the remaining 30 miles daydreaming about what it might be like to still be in the race. And though I'm sure it built lots of character or whatever, I wasn't hoping for a repeat of that humbling experience. With a good bit of mileage and racing in my legs since then, I felt pretty confident that I could at least ride with the pack and maybe even mix it up in the uphill finish - if we stayed together. I was a bit anxious at the outset that a break might get away because as much as I'd love to be in it, I have enough self-awareness to know that me in a break would almost certainly end poorly (likely involving daydreaming again). And so, as the only represented member of my club and already feeling apprehensive about the distance, I was content to sit in and enjoy the ride. I would gladly let the big teams control the front and play out their strategies while I sit back like a newbie idiot trying to figure out how to eat my first Gu without getting it all over my gloves. Mission accomplished.

To my relief, it quickly became apparent that we were probably going to stay together. Save for a tricky section of climbing, the course was too fast and the pack too hungry to let anything escape. The mile-long stretch of climbs also turned out to be the best place to move up - as the only portion of the route that opened up to two lanes. My simple strategy was pretty straightforward: Move up on the climbs and conserve energy the other 9 miles. Resembling a spirited game of "Chutes and Ladders," the plan worked out nicely. I started the race at the back and by the final lap was sitting somewhere in the top 15 or 20. I knew positioning wouldn't necessarily make or break the race as the finishing stretch was wide open, but I didn't want to risk getting boxed in or end up in a wreck. Nevertheless, I was in perfect position to unleash my fury on the final climb and make everyone feel the pain. As I stood to stomp up the last hill on my way to sure victory though, the only one who felt the pain was me. Cramps shot like lightning through both legs as my body protested the past 50 miles of abuse. Left quad, right hamstring, both calves...I wasn't even sure which muscles were still available to get me up the hill. My slow motion sprint was a study in concentration as I focused all of my remaining energy on willing my legs to continue in circles to the line. Which they did, barely. I coasted slowly through the finish line standing straight up (super cool) in a final, desperate effort to keep my legs from seizing up completely and tipping over (not cool). Thoroughly and utterly destroyed - nearly as dead as the possum I dodged each time up the hill.

Despite my legs' non-compliance, it was truly a great race on a great course and provided a welcome contrast to the ill-controlled chaos (crits) that is the majority of our race offerings in this area. Just wait 'til next year - I'm going to pack an extra Gu. Then they will feel the pain...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Man, the Myth, the Legend



Jeremy Powers.

Proving once and for all that you don't have to win to be the hero of the race.

Tour of Missouri

9.7.09
A few highlights from the trip...

(All photos by Gary "Schleck" Anderson)

Jens Voigt getting his pre-race caffeine fix


Jonathan Vaughters finalizing his race strategy. Gives us the thumbs-up after my dad says, "Good luck today, J.V."


Floyd Landis apparently hoping not to get beat up as he is escorted by his bodyguard.


#1 for the defending champion, Christian Vande Velde...who went home after crashing in the first stage. XXX'er Tom Briney representing in the background.


The "God of Thunder" on his way to the team area. Incidentally, Thor Hushovd is the only pro who appears to be built like me. In other words, he looks relatively fat compared to the rest of the emaciated pros who look like they haven't had a decent meal in several years.


"Big" George Hincapie rolls out!


Cavendish, J.J. Haedo, and Hushovd go 1-2-3 at the opening stage in St. Louis.

The biggest highlight, of course, deserves a post all its own...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Addendum


My unabashed admiration for the Jelly Belly rider who gave us "That Ain't Gatorade" prompted further inquiry into the matter. So I searched out several guys from the race and offered them all the same bait:

So and so,
A friend and I were amazed to see a Jelly Belly rider at Downers Grove piss in a water bottle and throw it to the side of the road. It was one of the most incredible acts of agility on a bicycle we've ever witnessed. Any idea who it was?? I'd love to know so I can give him full credit. I blogged about it on my site. Thanks.


The next day I got my answer:

Hey buddy, That was a great, well written funny ass article you wrote! OFF THE RECORD it was me, but I'm not sure I want people thinking of me as R.Kelly...


Finally, no more sleepless nights. Unfortunately, due to my unwavering journalistic integrity, I am the only one who will ever know the identity of the peeing professional. Rest assured, however, the next time I see him I will let him know that everyone who read the post agreed he truly has remarkable Powers...

Monday, August 24, 2009

That Ain't Gatorade...


8.16.09 Downers Grove National Criterium Championship

After a very full season of racing, I have been witness to a veritable plethora of remarkable feats performed on the bicycle. I have watched in awe and wonder displays of endurance and power that boggle the mind. I have seen horrific crashes and spectacular victories. I've watched in amazement as grown men curse each other while risking life and limb - all for a $50 payday, the thrill of the battle, and the potential glory of the win. All the lasting memories this season has gifted, however, pale in comparison to the events that transpired one rainy afternoon in August.

My friend Gary and I had returned to Downers Grove to watch the pros vie for the national championship and wandered aimlessly around the course discussing riders and the finer points of racing, pausing briefly every few minutes to see them whip by at a frantic pace before continuing on. And then, about midway through the race, IT happened. An unnamed Jelly Belly rider rounded turn seven and brought forth from his nether regions an uncapped water bottle, tossing it casually into a nearby flowerbed. As it hit the ground and a lightly-yellow-tinted liquid splashed freely out of the bottle, Gary and I looked at each other with the same unthinkable thought racing through our minds: "No...he couldn't have...it's not possible...right?" A brief brainstorming session ensued as we searched in vain for any rational explanation to what we had just seen. Coming up empty, we finally accepted the obvious and incredible truth. For the uninitiated, some context is probably necessary to fully underscore the significance of this mid-race bottle-filling miracle. The criterium at Downers has eight turns tightly packed into a mile-long course. And it was raining, adding considerable danger to the already constant risk-taking that permeates and enlivens these events. Finally, consider that even with all the corners and rain-soaked roads these pros are flying around the course at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour (speeds that even enthusiastic wannabes like myself only dream of). Bear in mind also that the simple act of drinking from a water bottle (its intended purpose) regularly causes veering, shouting, crashing, etc. in lesser races involving mere mortals. Now imagine a rider, amidst this unthinkable context... 1. Somehow managing to unscrew the top off a bottle, then 2. Getting a full-size bottle down his skin-tight bib-shorts and 3. Urinating...most of which presumably ends up in said bottle, then 4. Removing the bottle from his shorts and disposing of it properly in a roadside garden all while 5. Maneuvering several dangerous turns in a tightly packed peloton. If I hadn't witnessed it myself, I'd say it couldn't be done.

After investigating the scene and confirming our conclusions, we walked again. Glancing back a minute later to pay homage to the Bottle one last time, there it was...in a young boy's hands. In his youthful innocence he had picked it up as a souvenir - much like the foul ball from Wrigley or the jar of dirt from the Field of Dreams. We thought about it, but in the end neither of us had the heart to tell him...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Near Miss


Photo of me and the yellow tent I would eventually end the race in by Nikki Cyp
8.16.09 Downers Grove Criterium
Cat. 3 / 66th


As the pace kicked up on the final lap I found myself relegated to a twenty-something-ish position, and with opportunities to advance all but gone forever, I had begun accepting my fate. I would finish in the front end of the pack, perhaps even cracking into the high teens with a strong push to the line. That was the last thought I had before watching my life flash before my eyes as I narrowly avoided this crash. Two or three riders went down hard on turn five right in front of me and I had to quickly choose whether to 1) Join them on the ground; or 2) Hit the brakes and hope for the best as I sail into the yellow tent on the corner (filled with expensive bikes, wheels, etc., oh - and people too). Self-preservation rules the day as I lock up both brakes and try desperately to stay up on two skidding wheels. Rear wheel comes off the ground - okay - too much front brake. I cringe as I enter the wheel pit, knowing the odds are good that I'll kill someone or break something. Two Mavic reps jump out of my way, leaving a remarkably clear path through to the other side of the tent, where I finally come to a stop. Foot down, breathe again. Turn around, proceed back out of the tent and back onto the course. The whole episode lasts only a few seconds, but it's a lifetime in terms of the race and I'll be riding in alone - off the back. 66th wasn't my hope for the race but, all things considered, it's hard to complain. And, anyhow, it certainly makes for a better story than, "...and then I sprinted for 19th!"

Sssssssss....


(Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand four-letter words)

8.15.09 Downers Grove Criterium
Cat. 3/4 / DNF


Flatted with four laps to go. That's three flats in two weeks if you're counting.

Note to self: Get new tires.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

DNF


8.8.09 Grayslake Cycling Classic Criterium
Cat. 3 / DNF


I've never had a flat in a race. Today I had two.

Five or six guys went off the front early in the race, and as I had been sitting in the middle of the field I was going to need to make a serious effort to bridge the gap. Me and a couple other guys jumped away from the pack to get to the break and shortly thereafter found myself, all alone, in no-man's-land - that hellish place between the breakaway and the rest of the field. I had managed to get within 20 or 30 meters of the lead group when I started feeling my rear wheel fishtailing around the corners - flat. SRAM was providing neutral support so I walked back to the start and got a replacement wheel (much nicer than mine, bonus). By this point the breakaway is crushing the rest of the field so I say, "I was just off the back of the breakaway when I flatted," in hopes that I could get back in where I was and not with the main field. So he lets me jump in as the break rolls by on the next lap and I quickly (and mildly guiltily) join the breakaway. So now I'm in the breakaway and whether I belong there is probably debatable at best. This lead group of 7 or 8 guys was really moving and I just didn't have the horsepower to be much help. So here I am - holding on for dear life, trying my best to hide my exhaustion, and taking brief pulls at the front to at least maintain the appearance of legitimacy. "Six laps to go!" shouts the announcer and all I can think is how am I ever going to keep this up for six more laps?? As it turns out, I didn't have to. A lap or two later my bike starts feeling all sloppy again - front wheel flat this time. Frustration and relief washed over me in equal measure. Then, I did what I always do when I get frustrated...I started screaming obscenities and threw my bike into someone's front lawn. Okay, actually I just walked back to where my family was watching and finished the race as a spectator - disappointed but thankful for the pain to be over.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Smiler


Photo by Luke Seemann
8.1.09 Tour of Elk Grove Criterium
Cat. 3 / 23rd


Wind, rain, tight turns and narrow roads made for a treacherous course...resulting in multiple crashes. Luckily I managed to stay off the ground and out of trouble, however, I also managed to stay out of the money - which went 20 places deep. The long, narrow, and winding homestretch required that you be in a decent position coming off the final turn before it got too fast and packed to move up. Lesson learned. Returned on Sunday to see all the big guns in the pro race - even got to meet Chris Horner ("The Smiler") afterward!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

3.

7.26.09 Chicago Criterium
Cat. 3 / 34th

My first race after upgrading my license from category 4 to category 3. Others had told me, "Oh there's not really much difference, except that it's a lot safer in the 3's because everyone's had more experience" and other things of that nature. Well it may or may not be safer, but it's definitely faster. It was easily the fastest race I'd ever been a part of (averaging 27 mph) and was a bit of a shock to the system. I was able to hang on and play along, but never really factored meaningfully into the race. Disappointing finish but was really excited to be racing at a higher level. What doesn't kill me will make me stronger - right?

Chicago Personal Photographers got a nice picture.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Future Stars



7.19.09 Evanston Grand Prix Criterium
Cat. 4 / 3rd
($55)

Got into a 3-man breakaway in the latter half of the race which was slowly reeled in and caught by the final lap. Stayed at the front after the catch and sprinted for 3rd. Highlight of the day however was the kids' race, where my niece and nephews got their first taste of "competitive" cycling.